Searching for the Right Words? Tip #26

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This series is aimed at helping writers use the right words to express their meaning. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

As a writer, you want to inspire readers with joy, stoke their terrors, romance them with love, overwhelm them with horror. This set of posts examines ways of influencing mood by selecting the ‘right’ words for the job.


“The shadow moved again and she was frightened she might scream even though she knew she must try not to.’

This tells the reader something about a scary incident. But it only tells the reader. There’s no involvement emotionally in the scene.

Shall we try again?

“The shadow, lost for a moment in stillness, moved again and she gasped, trying to hold back the scream she felt build within her, aware she was on the edge of a decline into hysteria that might send her mad with terror. She must hold on.”

Taken from ‘Heir to Death’s Folly’, a short gothic horror story, this scene allows the reader to feel along with the character and experience the terror.

If nothing else, I hope this series will enhance our writing with words that more precisely reflect what we’re trying to convey to readers.

I prefer Roget’s Thesaurus when editing; the 1987 edition, which I started with. It still lives within reach on my reference shelf. Other books of word choices, which I consult when the apposite word continues to evade me, reside with it. But first I try to gather that ‘right’ word from the tumultuous void within my skull: it’s good mental exercise.

Any thesaurus will provide alternatives for the idea of the word you seek, but not all those suggestions are true synonyms, so always consider context.